Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are We Giving Birth to ...well... "Gaia"?

I want to refer you to the latest paper -"On the Promise of Noopolitik" - by two of the most brilliant social thinkers around, today, David Ronfedlt and John Arquilla, of the Rand Corporation. Unlike many utopian or extropian wish fantasies, they are talking about a simple extrapolation of today's positive trends, via what I have called the :"Age of Amateurs" toward a near era when leveraged individual and "smart mob" and coalescing critical skills will make our sum intelligence something truly and fantastically greater than the parts.

See how they relate all this to the ruminations in 1925 of Teilhard de Chardin, in The Phenomenon of Man. One might also have hearkened to J.D. Bernal's THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL: An enquiry into the future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, from the same period. (Available online).

A great paper. It is, of course, a topic that we can start talking about, over beers, one day after work... and wake up amid a sea of bottle, wondering what day it is, without even having touched half of the ramifications. Still let me touch on a few very lightly.

1) Of course, what they discuss is something that I described, pretty thoroughly, in the last dozen or so chapters of EARTH. Wherein I am VERY critical of the typical "Childhood's End" notion of how humanity might become part of some future macro intelligence. Whether it is clanking assimilation - as in the Borg - or floating above tatami mats while birds hover - as in Asimov's "Gaia" - or clone based telepathy a la Joe Haldeman - it is still almost always depicted as an either-or dichotomy... a surrender of individuality, in order to gain the benefits of mass intelligence..

In EARTH I portray this coalescence and elevation as something quite different. As a reification, a fulfillment, a celebration of human individuality,

2) This makes sense when you ponder that the noosphere will have to partake in the most successful aspects of its immediate predecessor... the Western Enlightenment.

Indeed, the very success of the Enlightenment is what has brought us to the verge of this new birth. And a very dangerous birthing process it will be. (Look back at the last time this was tried - prematurely, precociously, disastrously - in the great experiment of Pericles.)

Crucial to remember is that none of these possibilities - this condition that is p[regnant with a new kind of humanity - arose out of the mothodologies used by standard,or traditional, hierarchical societies. Priests, preaching rigid rules of good thinking. Nobles punishing any deviations from right-behavior. We reflexively turn to these twin methods, and have for countless millennia. Heck, George Lucas is still preaching them, today! But they have a PERFECT track record of never, ever working.

In stark contrast, the Enlightenment trick - invented by Locke and Smith - is to use rule-based arenas of FAIR COMPETITION (science, markets, courts, and democracy) to elicit the plus-side benefits of joyful creativity out of people, while preventing the brutally repressive, secretive, cheating side of human nature from spoiling competition. Locke and Smith, innovating out of instinct and a sense of pragmatic "fairness", could not have known that they were emulating the very same fecund synergies that we see in evolution, in nature! But the effect is exact and fantastically productive.

In complexity theory, experts call this sort of thing an "emergent property." What is COMPETITIVE at one level becomes visibly and powerfully COOPERATIVE, when viewed at the next higher level. Take healthy ecosystems, for example. "The circle of life." Ecosystems - like markets - will tend to stay balanced until someone gets a huge edge, enough to "cheat." In which case, watch out....are you listening, humanity? (Well, we're the smart ones, trying to TELL OURSELVES to stop cheating. Quite a demand, for folks recently out of the caves.)

3) Since Enlightenment systems rely utterly on RECIPROCAL ACCOUNTABILITY... and thus (viz Hayek) upon open information flows...this means that the Enlightenment - and its offspring the Noosphere -- are fundamentally in conflict with basic drives of human nature. Above all, two human traits: self-delusion and a longing for feudalism. (We inherit the latter because we all are descended from the harems of countless kings.)

4) Hence my key point. The transformation that John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt describe is obvious to society's smartest men and women. Those with vision can see it coming. But their reactions differ greatly.

Some respond to the approaching birth with excitement, by funding research to help it along. Elon Musk, for example. Others look with dread on the pain and potential dangers of the birthing process -- take Bill Joy. In this matter, Arthur Clarke may have had it right.

Finally, there are many, many amid the elites who desperately do not want this new era to happen! They realize that the noosphere is an inevitable outcome of the Enlightenment Experiment, if current trends of citizen uplift and citizen-empowerment continue. And even if the newborn is healthy, they see themselves as losers, because their privileged positions will no longer be assured. Better to reign over a grinding, insipid pyramid than to tumble into mere citizenship in a fecund, spectacular "emergent property."

There is a lot of momentum toward this birth. Thus, the opposition's counter-push cannot merely be obstructionist. It must be actively and radically reactionary. The clock must not simply be frozen. It must be wound backwards. To earlier modes of hierarchical control.

5) The Ronfeldt &Arquilla paper shows awareness of this resistance, but a certain naivete about exactly what's happening. It is not nationalism, per se, that is blocking progress toward a massively synergistic reification of worldwide human discourse. Indeed, some nation states - if left alone - have been friendly midwives to the process. The best example - after state-supported universities - was when the United States of America simply LET GO OF THE INTERNET and gave it to the world. Proof of midwifery. Period. (Today's Libertarianism is both right and horrifically simplistic.)

No, it is NOT nationalism, per se, that is driving the frantic resistance that we are currently witnessing vs. mass-human empowerment and reification. Rather, I see the Enlightenment nation state being hijacked at two levels:

(1) by those alienated against the future on emotional-romantic terms and

(2) by clades of very smart men who see their very last chance to re-institute traditional human social hierarchies, before it is too late.

Ponder, if this is the agenda, then elites in all parts of the world - purportedly divided by language, nationality, religion and official dogma - might see common cause against the thing that frightens them most. The birth of multi-layered, "metazoan" humanity. In that case, they might USE their apparent national and ideological differences to pit citizens against each other and raise fear levels. The surest way to prevent confident embrace of a new way of thinking.

Have I just made myself a target of this lurid-seeming cabal of super-smart but super troglodytic elites?

Fortunately, I have too little influence in this world to be considered a threat.

In fact, I keep waiting for them to offer me a buyout! But then, I may be too small even for that.

Wish me a good trip and keep using comments to keep the community alive.

Visit kos.


Finally, I may be putting this journal; on hiatus for a few weeks. If you see nothing from me till early September, never fear. I will leave the comments section, below, as a general forum. There is even a chance that I might ask Stefan to post a "comment-relayed-from-Brin"... from time to time! (He has one of the choicest email addresses ever.)

Also, please drop in at my final "Ostrich Papers"  Also posted on my website. Yes, it is vastly too long (4000 words!) for the multiprocessing generation. Still, I felt that SOMEWHERE there needed to be a "guidebook" for ostrich hunters.

Happy hunting.


Anonymous said...

Those interested in this sort of thing might check out George Dyson's Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence (ISBN: 0738200301).

The notion goes way back . . . 19th century big thinkers were nibbling around the edges of the noosphere.

* * *

Someone here needs to win the lottery big-time so he or she can bribe Patrick Farley to complete THE SPIDERS. The alternate-history-Afghan-war is savvy and wonderful and creepy.

David Brin said...

Or find me a venture/angel with a 1990s , neuron and adventure-rich brain to help launch

Then I'll fund Farley personally! And lots of other cool things.

(I "own" online use of half the personal conversation things we do in real life. Yet I cannot get anyone to use pocket change to exploit this and utterly crush everything from 2nd Life to MySpace. What a dismal century. I hate it.)

More professionals fighting back:

I'll try to post one last time ...

Go to kos!

comment. get my numbers up

Tony Fisk said...

Egad, fame at last (although I wouldn't call myself 'experienced' at converting ostriches. Just someone grabbing useful chunks from a course on effective communication).

One little problem with those zingers is that they concentrate on BushCo. The obvious response to that is 'we won't be voting for *them*, anyway!'. Need to ponder some counters to that.

Much as I normally like Clarke, I must confess that I found the premise of 'Childhoods End' quite repellent. I felt a similar sense when I read Butler's 'Alien Seed' series. However, those books tackled the root problem posed by the subversion of humanity ('you never asked') and made the aliens come to appreciate the ethical dilemma they had created.

If/when 'Earth' makes it to a screen of any size, I think the treatment should definitely emphasise the burgeoning cooperation without the sacrifice of individuality. (eg viral memes spreading tactics on how to counter Daisy's 'angels', rather than the typical 'cowering masses' treatment.)

I "own" online use of half the personal conversation things we do in real life. Yet I cannot get anyone to use pocket change to exploit this

(Put like that, can you blame them? ;-)

(Ditto on Spiders)

Oh, and bon voyage, David.

Sidereus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sidereus said...

FYI - Received a signed copy of Sky Horizon today. Will crack it open this weekend.

David McCabe said...

Don't knock peoples' generation, please.

Anonymous said...

Two things. First, on the subject of mass linked mind humanity, Theodore Sturgeon's To Marry Medusa covered the ground pretty well and interestingly, and allowed for individuality even while everybody was telepathically linked. At least, that's how I read it, it's been a while.

And another book I thought our host might be interested in. The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture by Andrew Keen. I haven't read the book, but it was apparently on the Colbert Report, and he seems to be complaining about the loss of "gatekeepers" like professional journalists in an age of anybody can say anything blogs. I think he's way over hyping the problem, especially considering how much certain kinds of journalism (science, politics) have sucked lately. The reviews look to be split, so it's probably not a great book, though.

And the irony of the author complaining about blogs, on his own blog, is pretty good.

K. Allen Gillette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

By the way, Dr. Brin, your diary got frontpaged.

Anonymous said...

Nate mentions "To Marry Medusa." (AKA "The Cosmic Rape.")

Man, I'm getting flashbacks. What a strange, sad, wonderful book.

And then there's "More Than Human," also by Sturgeon, whose last paragraphs . . . well, I won't spoil it.

Anonymous said...

Alas, all the evidence points to the emergence of a global online Dark Ages rather than a global emergent online collective intelligence:

Anonymous said...

"considering how much certain kinds of journalism (science, politics) have sucked lately"

It always has...

Anonymous said...

WSJ - U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites

The decision, made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, places for the first time some of the U.S.'s most powerful intelligence-gathering tools at the disposal of domestic security officials. The move was authorized in a May 25 memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking his department to facilitate access to the spy network on behalf of civilian agencies and law enforcement.


Sometime next year, officials will examine how the satellites can aid federal and local law-enforcement agencies, covering both criminal and civil law. The department is still working on determining how it will engage law enforcement officials and what kind of support it will give them.

Welcome to 1984...

K. Allen Gillette said...

Very interesting read. However, I probably liked it primarily because I see the emergence of the noosphere as obvious, putting me among "society's smartest men & women" by Brin's assessment. ;-) That's certainly not true, as it's nothing I've seen by myself, just what I've gleaned from reading a bit of Teilhard, as well as Robert Wright's Nonzero, Gregory Stock's Metaman, Robert Pirsig's Lila, among others that play on the concept.

I agree with Brin that the birthing of the noosphere will be a difficult one, and definitely opposed by the both the elite & the alienated, though I think that the current elite will no doubt find ways to make money off of the noosphere, allowing those in power to leverage their current positions into comfortable niches in the new world order, perhaps somewhat lessening resistance in some quarters. Further, the disaffected will likely stay offline & thereby become marginalized, minimizing the impact of their traditionalism.

However, I think the birthing of the noosphere will not just be difficult, but also dangerous. The question I find frightening is what level of discourse the emerging noosphere will attain. As Ronfeldt & Arquilla point out in The promise of noöpolitik, the tribal-level thinkers of Al Qaeda have a better grasp of the nascent noosphere than the heir to the Enlightenment & most powerful nation-state. I think that the noosphere, like any democratizing force, transfers power to the individual. But what happens when the individuals it gives power to are tribalists & feudalists whose literalist worldviews are threats to others in a pluralistic world? What happens when the use of noöpolitik to spread ideologies of exclusion & hate turns into the realpolitik of terrorist bombings & other criminal & destructive acts?

I think that integral theory & the Spiral Dynamics analysis of social development is apropos here. What we're foreseeing is the technologically-enabled emergence of a new "we"-space--a shared cultural dimension--that connects & empowers individuals at almost all levels of development. The critical question is how we quickly move masses of humanity from lower levels of psychological & social development to higher ones so that our civilization gives birth to the "ecumenical, ethical" noosphere Teilhard envisioned instead of a matricidal monstrosity.

Anonymous said...

Could it be? The professionals are striking back...?

Anonymous said...

good luck on your trip Brin!

Good writing on this post.

Brother Doug

Kelson said...

Could the rampage against professionalism be part of a greater fight against the noosphere?